PARIS - He moves with stealth, finds his prey, and never lets go. He is smooth talking, understanding and thoughtful, always paying attention to his beloved, the person he claims means everything to him. He seduces her, makes himself indispensable, and then proposes.

The victim is thrilled. She is trapped, and will realize it quite quickly. Sooner or later, he shows his true colors. The man she married turns out to be a love predator, a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He humiliates his prey, brings her down, harasses and picks fights with her, but never in public. He is a master of manipulation, and she learns to fear his mood swings and his wrath. She does all that is in her power to mend things, to no avail.

This is a scenario typical of "narcissistic perverts." The psychoanalyst Paul-Claude Racamier (1924-1996) first described this much-debated pathology in "Between psychic agony, psychotic denial and narcissistic perversion," an article published in the French psychoanalysis revue in 1986.

Seduction – Power - Manipulation

The general public discovered the concept in a best selling book by psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Marie-France Hirigoyen called Moral harassment (La Découverte & Syros, 1998). "There are an equal number of men and women victims," she explains. "Narcissistic perverts' violence is based on a triptych: seduction, power, manipulation. They possess traits common to all moral perverts [as opposed to sexual perverts], but they are much more calculating and have a stronger capacity for destruction."

Author of a recent book on manipulation (Abusing weakness and other manipulations, JC Lattès), the psychiatrist doesn't pull her punches when describing them: "Vampires who need to boost their self-esteem by emptying that of their victims."

The narcissistic pervert hates generosity, noble sentiments, or any moral qualities. "They take great pleasure in transgression. They like to hurt the other person's morality or to pervert them, and to break the law," explains Marie-France Hirigoyen. "There are more and more of them," she adds. "Harsher working conditions encourage people to be resourceful or to cheat. Moral perversions, that is to say using other humans as objects, have become our society's new pathologies."

Mathilde Cartel met her ex-husband on vacation when she was very young. "At first, he was everything I dreamed of. He had created a character that was exactly who I was looking for," she remembers. He was different, spoke little but well, and impressed her by talking about philosophy. She lacked self-esteem, and he put her on a pedestal. After the vacation, he sent her a letter every day. "I was his Mother Theresa. I felt useful, and he made me feel smart," she says. It took two years for Frederic to seduce Mathilde. He cut her from her family, married her, and took a job abroad.

Once his victim was trapped, he revealed his true self. He convinced her that she was nothing without him, he became terribly mean and put her down with hurtful comments such as: "You have a brain, why don't you use it." He insulted her, calling her a "bitch", a "slut," telling her to "shut her trap." When she couldn't take it anymore and talked about leaving him, he threatened to commit suicide with his children and begged her, saying he needed her.

"He brainwashed me. I was just a puppet, and he pulled the strings. I didn't have a mind of my own. I endured without consenting," she says. Everything was her fault, and he never took the blame for anything. He hit her. To outsiders, he made a great impression. People envied this model couple. One day, he crossed a line and took it out on the children.

After 15 years of humiliation and criticism, Mathilde finally had the courage to leave. "I picked up the children at school and fled," she says. It took her years to recover. She wrote a book about it with two other women who went through the same ordeal (I loved a pervert, with Carole Richard and Amélie Rousset, Eyrolles).

Feeding on their victims' emotions

Cognitive behavioral therapist Isabelle Nazare-Aga (author of Manipulators and love, Les Éditions de l'homme) doesn't subscribe to the concept of narcissistic perverts as theorized by Hirigoyen. She just calls them "manipulators." "The manipulator quickly scans a person, and is extremely smart. He looks for victims who have self-esteem problems, who easily feel guilty, who have the savior syndrome, that is to say they always want to help others, or who are emotionally dependent."

Manipulators have an unconscious visceral need to wreck havoc in the family. "They feed on their victims' emotions: fear, anxiety, sadness, anger. They can't stand other people's happiness," explains the therapist. They have incredible confidence, they persuade their victim of their superiority, and can't stand criticism. They are skilled with words and wield subtly contradictory communication.

"A manipulative wife, for instance, will accuse her husband of never being here and not helping her with the gardening, but, at the same time, she'll tell him that the money he brings home isn't enough to take the family on a beach holiday," explains Nazare-Aga. "So if he works more to make more, he can't help his wife. And if he's at home more often to help her, he won't make enough to take his family on vacation." Whatever he does is wrong.

Why does the narcissistic pervert act this way? Psychoanalyst Jean-Charles Bouchoux, author of a remarkable book on the topic (Narcissistic perverts, Eyrolles, 2011) posits that his behavior keeps him from going mad. "He projects his bad self-image on another another person that he must then destroy," explains Bouchoux.

In a normal maturation process, children become aware of others when they grow up. It is the inability to fulfill this stage that leads to psychosis, where the self and the rest of the world aren't distinguished. This also leads to anxieties about fragmentation and dissociation, since the other person is thought to possess a part of your self. "The narcissistic pervert was kept from being born in his image. He uses others like mirrors, keeping what's good about them and projecting his own flaws on them. He hopes to fill his void and escape the psychosis that is hanging over his head in the case of further regression," says the psychoanalyst. At the risk of pushing the victim into extreme confusion and depression, sometimes to the point of suicide.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Regan Walsh